4 Things You Should Know Before Enrolling Your Child in Connections Academy
More people are choosing online schooling for their children than ever before. Issues like bullying, student safety, and large classroom size plaguing brick and mortar public schools make eschools an attractive option. There are many choices available these days and it can be a challenge to sift through and narrow down the best eschool for your child.
Connections Academy is a long-standing eschool, first established in 2001. It has become a leader in the virtual learning arena with schools available in 30 of the 50 U.S. states, and plans to expand virtual learning opportunities in the remaining states soon.
My son started with Ohio Connections Academy as a kindergartener in 2013. Placing a high value on quality education and living in a failing school district at the time, the decision to enroll our son was an easy one. Seven years later, it remains one of the best decisions we've ever made. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, however. We've experienced our fair share of ups and downs. In the beginning the idea of a child completing their education online was still very new and we received a lot of push back from family, friends, co-workers, and even complete strangers. We also had much to learn: navigating the online environment, creating a schedule that works for best for our son and our family, and dealing with changes and hiccups along the way.
After seven years, we've learned a lot and continue to learn each year. I now co-run a Facebook group specifically for Connections Academy families all across the United States as well as head a Facebook group specifically for Ohio families. It truly does take a village, and these groups are a fantastic resource for support, encouragement, and knowledge from more seasoned parents and families.
In the past few years, I've seen many families enroll their children into Connections without realizing all that it entails. While online schooling is a fantastic opportunity offering personalized education and flexibility, it's not for everyone. Understanding the role of learning coach, the time and effort needed, as well as other important expectations can help parents decide if Connections Academy is a good fit for their child and their family. Below I've outlined four important things to know before enrolling a child into Connections Academy.
1. The Role of Learning Coach
One of the benefits of online schooling is how hands-on parents can be in their children's education. As a learning coach, parents help guide their children through daily lessons and tasks, are responsible for ensuring children stay on track, communicate with teachers, and mark attendance daily.
How involved you need to be on a daily basis depends on the age and grade level of your child. If your child is enrolled in elementary school, you will need to be involved for most, if not all, of the school day. You will have access to break downs of each lesson as well as answer keys to help you guide your child through the material. This is an incredibly rewarding experience as you get to witness your child's 'aha!' moments. You also get to slowly start teaching your child to be more independent with their studies and help them foster a love of learning. In middle school, you will slowly start taking a step back as your child learns to become even more independent with their studies. By high school, your child should be able to work through their lessons independently and you might only need to offer guidance as necessary.
It's also important to note that if your child is transferring to Connections from a traditional brick and mortar school, no matter his or her age, you will need to be involved more in the beginning as you both learn to navigate the online learning environment. It can take up to six months to find a groove and get the hang of everything. It's important to have patience and a sense of humor as you begin this new journey.
Connections Academy has a great system of support for Learning Coaches. Learning Coach Central is a collection of resources dedicated to helping parents. There are orientations, tutorials, live lesson sessions, and a variety of other resources to help you help your child and ensure success in the online learning environment. In addition, there are Facebook groups you can join to find support from seasoned Connections Academy families.
2. Time and Effort Needed
Connections Academy is an online public school and subject to laws and regulations set down by the state. Each state is different concerning attendance requirements and how attendance is tracked. In Ohio, K-8 students need to attend school for 27.5 hours per week. In addition, students need to be in contact with their teacher at least once every two weeks. Contact includes phone calls, webmails, and live lessons. Live lessons are meetings with the teacher and classmates weekly. The amount of live lessons your child will have depends on grade level. As a sixth grader, my son has a math, science, and social studies live lesson on Monday; Language Arts and math live lessons on Tuesday; A math live lesson on Wednesday; and a math and social studies live lesson on Thursday. In Ohio, he is not required to attend all live lessons, but is encouraged to attend as many as possible. Live lesson sessions are recorded so if you have to miss one, you can go back and watch the recording, or you can have your child refer back to the live lesson to refresh their memory on a concept or idea.
The amount of time you will need to be involved will vary depending on your child's age and grade level. Younger children are going to need you to be there with them for most, if not all, of the school day. The same is also true for new students transferring from a traditional brick and mortar school. This is important to understand. Many parents enroll their children and don't realize how involved they need to be, only to be surprised and frustrated at how much time they end up spending on school each day. While your child will have teachers, he or she most likely will not be in contact with them every day. For older kids, the amount of time you will need to be there with them will vary depending on their grade level and ability to work independently.
We have a non-traditional school schedule; our school week runs from Friday through Tuesday, with Wednesday and Thursday off. My son attends live lessons on Mondays and Tuesdays, and watches recordings of ones he's missed on Friday or Saturday. A typical school day for him lasts anywhere between five and a half hours to seven hours, depending on the day and what lessons he is completing. I am right there alongside him for the vast majority of those hours. We go through each lesson together and I help teach him the material. I answer any questions he has and sometimes expand on the topic. While he is taking his quizzes and tests, I step out of the room so he can complete those independently. I also designate certain tasks for him to complete independently, and that list grows as he gets older. On Mondays and Tuesdays during live lessons, I am also out of the room so he can focus and learn from his teacher, but I am always within earshot so I can hear what's going on.
3. Flexibility with Deadlines
Another great benefit of online school is the flexibility it affords. There is a lot of freedom when it comes to setting up your child's school schedule. For example, if your child doesn't learn well first thing in the morning, you can start the school day in the afternoon. If your child has extracurricular activities, you can work your school schedule around them. If you want to take a day off in the middle of the week for a doctor appointment, because your child is sick, or because you have something fun planned, you absolutely can! Like I stated above, our school schedule runs from Friday through Tuesday and my son takes Wednesdays and Thursdays off. This mirrors my husband's work schedule and allows us to maximize our family time.
However with that freedom and flexibility comes great responsibility. You are still required to ensure your child is completing their lessons, staying on track, and meeting attendance requirements. Lessons need to be completed in a timely fashion and there will be larger projects that take more effort. Planning ahead, staying organized, and communicating with your teacher are important to prevent falling behind and having a successful school year.
4. Common Core and Curriculum
There is a lot of debate and misinformation concerning common core. It's important to understand that Common Core is not a curriculum, rather it's a set of standards that define learning goals in the areas of math and language arts. Common core outlines what students should know and be able to do in these subjects by the end of each grade level. These were developed to help ensure that all students have the skills necessary for college and the workforce, and to create a unity in what is being taught and when across the United States.
Because Connections Academy is a public school, it must follow individual state regulations concerning education. This also means that students are required to take state standardized tests. Connections has developed their curriculum to align with each state's standards as well as national standards. The language arts and math curriculum do align with Common Core State Standards.
With that said, the curriculum is top notch. When my son first started Kindergarten I was pleasantly surprised at the concepts he was learning at such a young age, many I hadn't learned until I was older. Each year I continue to be impressed at the things he's learning. Connections Academy teaches and encourages students to utilize critical thinking skills, explains different approaches to solve problems, and fosters creativity. In addition, their curriculum is set up to work for many different styles of learning. There are also programs available for students who need extra support or practice in language arts and math.
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